Croz and the Kawasaki Z900RS
Words: Jock McLauchlan & Graeme Crosby – Photos: Geoff Osborne
It must have been the mid-70s, my first ever visit to Manfeild race track near Feilding. I thought I was a young teenager but perhaps I wasn’t… anyway, I loved all things ‘motorbike’, and I still do. I was wondering down the dummy grid and right there in front of me were two of the biggest, most bad-arse and beautiful machines ever conceived by production motorcycling to date.
I could hardly believe it, two! I remember one had a flag painted on the tank, and I thought it was the coolest bike I’d ever seen… and that they were huge. I thought I’d probably never ride one, or be able to afford one, in a million years.
Of course, I’m talking about the Kawasaki Z1 900 – to my mind the original ‘Superbike’ and an absolute legend of motorcycling. Now, well over 40 years later, not only have I ridden the all new ‘retro’ Z900 RS, I’ve also, finally, ridden the original – but not just any bloody original either – a hot-rodded “Croz” special that is just dripping in cool.
Back to the present, parking the Z900RS next to a Z1 900 at the Croz’s workshop wonderland, it struck me how similar they looked. Kawasaki has done an incredible job in maintaining the historical look with the new RS but, make no mistake, it is a thoroughly modern machine in everything but styling. A closer look reveals a quite different machine with a liquid-cooled engine, despite the fins on the outside cylinders.
The chassis is all new with a horizontal, back-link mounted shock, and a lightweight steel-tube frame that uses the engine as a stressed member. Fully-adjustable USD forks grace the front end with ABS, of course, at both ends. Adjustable traction control is part of the package, which can also be switched off.
Out on the road the RS is a stunning road bike. The power is plentiful, with plenty of ‘oomph’ right where you need it and totally accessible to the real world rider. Last year I was very impressed with our Z900 ninja-style test bike. The engine in it was a beauty and I think this new RS version is even better…
The torque and peak power may hit a little lower in the rev range, but that only boosts the fun factor and overall feeling of ‘gruntiness’, particularly because it’s still very responsive. The grunt is there for effortless roll-on top gear overtaking and the thrust from turns in the twisties belies its medium capacity – by today’s standards anyway.
The engine really is a hoot and a heap of fun if you want to play, but then its silky smooth and demure, purring like a nice pussy cat when you just want take in the views and idle home. Some may say it’s a little abrupt in on/off throttle situations in low gear but I had no problems. In fact, everything has a slick and quality feel.
The clutch is smooth and light, the gearbox effortless, while the brakes are light to operate and very effective with pin-point accuracy on the road. The ABS is well calibrated with no spooky early intervention as some bikes have, and the TC allowed reasonable power-stands even in setting 1, while switching it off completely allows you to fully embrace your inner hoon – if your licence points can take the hit. But then you can dial in more TC intervention if required on those wet slippery days.
The suspension was an excellent blend of firm control and compliant comfort; it effortlessly soaked up most of what our nasty back roads could throw at it. In a succession of choppy bumps it packs down slightly in the rear (a couple of clicks less rebound damping would help) and there is some feedback from the front, but really it’s minor stuff and the overall suspension action is taught and confidence inspiring. Most retro-style bikes don’t come with adjustable suspension, but the RS is clickable at both ends, so you can tweak it to suit your riding style.
Handling continues in the same manner. It has a light, relaxed feel in the turns and is agile and stable in equal measure. Again, effortless springs to mind whether you’re going quick or simply cruising. When you think about it… effortlessness is probably the number one attribute for a great motorcycle and that goes for race bikes and cruisers alike.
Ergonomically the Z900RS is very comfortable. Those old school numbers work… making for a very relaxed and neutral riding position.
I’m tall and yet the seat, peg, handle bars measurements felt spot on, but I also think shorter riders will be totally happy too – this really is a case of one size fits all… it’s not a towering Adventure bike or a cramped Sports bike – it’s a ‘real world’ bike. There is only one drawback I can see, the lack of a screen makes it tiring for higher speed distance work – but fortunately that’s something that’s easily fixed.
Kawasaki should genuinely be proud of this new machine. It looks the part, and truly performs very well in all regards – certainly well above my expectations for a retro machine – and the price point is excellent for its overall class. If you want a bike that looks super-cool retro but has the suspension, handling and brakes of a modern sports machine then Kawasaki’s reload of the Z900 is a definite winner.
The Croz Z1 900 Special
Croz said, “You follow me up the road and I’ll just check she’s going right.” Kiwi racing legend Graeme Crosby was referring to a very slick-looking “Croz Special” Kawasaki Z1 900 he had just finished rebuilding for a Japanese client, but had not yet completed the final shake down and dial-in.
This bike, like many Croz builds for customers has USD forks, modern twin disc brakes and quality rear suspension units, along with open mouth carbs and a race exhaust. So off we went… and I have to say the old girl sounded utterly glorious after a couple of backfires to clear the Moriwaki four-into-ones’ titanium throat. Then she came on song as it burst into a wheelstand, which was just so fitting for Croz and a Z1. A few kays down the ride we swapped bikes with Croz mentioning that she’s still a bit feral…
To be honest I had absolutely no idea what to expect, after all I’d never ridden one in all these years since seeing a couple of them at Manfeild. After the Z900RS, which is very polished and 45 odd years newer… it certainly felt raw and, yes, a little feral. But it had character in spades and a real don’t f**k with me swagger about it. Because of its new nature and rare status I never really worked the engine, but it’s fair to say it comes on nicely around 7000rpm…
Nothing about this machine is benign, it’s loud and sounds awesome, the suspension is hard, the clutch pull in the ‘manly’ category, likewise the throttle. Yes, this is a real “man’s bike” and all the more loveable for it. It’s a bike that assaults your senses and defines the “when men were men” racing era, but with a modern twist. And this Z1 900 in particular only adds gloss to its legendary status, truly a very collectable and beautiful looking beast. I’d like to say thanks to Croz for the ride, it was a pleasure and an honour.
Croz on the Kawasaki Z900RS
I was an 18-year-old apprentice mechanic when I viewed the legendary Z1 900 for the first time. Busy doing assemblies and pre-delivery checks on what has now become Kawasaki’s most famous model, I never thought that this association would last decades. The Z1 in its various forms carried me to the far corners of the earth in pursuit of victories while pushing its boundaries to the limit.
Here we are 40-odd years down the track and I have just been out testing this latest retro version of Kawasaki’s iconic model. This is what I think of the new Z900RS, in a nutshell.
Although not heavily powered up in comparison with the ZX-10R it has more than enough for me and is technically capable of being improved in a “flash” if required.
Light, agile and stable at all speeds, it’s a delight and real easy to ride – a far cry from the “old” original. Although, if anything perhaps it’s a bit snappy off the bottom, which can catch you out as you manoeuvre at slower speeds. Seat height and ride comfort work well as I can attest, even after a 450km ride.
But what makes me excited about this is the range of aftermarket styling items coming onto the market to provide personalisation ability, for example a four-into-four exhaust – just like the original is now available from aftermarket manufacturers. Love it.
2018 Kawasaki Z900RS Strengths & Weaknesses
- Plus – The whole bike is a class act
- Minus – I’m still working on it…
2018 Kawasaki Z900RS Specifications